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The king of curry

delhi Updated: Oct 01, 2011 22:51 IST
Kumkum Chadha
Kumkum Chadha
Hindustan Times
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Lord Gulam Kaderbhoy Noon grew up being slapped by the mullahs in madrasas (Islamic schools). He has dealt with cases of paedophilia and thus claims to know what goes on in there.

As a boy he gave the azaan (call for prayer) from the mosque every morning. Seeing how regular he was, his father said that he would grow up to be a mullah (Muslim priest). It is another matter that he would be turning in his grave given that Noon lashes out at mullahs at the first opportunity he gets: “Yes it is as though I am taking my revenge, getting back at them,” Noon told HT during his short visit to New Delhi last week.

Islam, says Noon, is a magnificent religion being destroyed the mullahs: “They have trapped Islam in rituals. While it is important that children learn the Islamic traditions but more important is that they should learn it under the supervision of parents. I say this because once he goes to a madrasa I do not know what he will come out with.” Noon has donated half a million pounds for training Imams. He prays daily to Allah, except that he does it in English: “He is a linguist and I can only pray to him in a language I know best,” he quips.

A Bohra Muslim, Noon was born as Gulam Kader Mithaiwala to a sweetmeat maker in Mumbai. Noon was Gulam's nickname, which he took as his last, once he landed in the UK.

Having lost his father when he was nine, Noon struggled to keep the mithai business going. The family moved to Mumbai when the meaning of poverty hit Noon. He toiled to keep the mithai shop going and within a short span made the Bombay Halwa its USP. It is something that he sells even now in UK and of course, has retained the original set up in Mumbai. The first time he bought a tenement and later an apartment for the family and then for himself, Noon knew that it was time to move on. He wanted a bigger platform and eyed London. During Morarji Desai’s rule there were restrictions on the amount of money one could carry which to quote Noon “was not enough to buy cyanide to commit suicide”. Noon exceeded the limit and carried £50 that saw him through till he stabilised.

Those were the days when insipid Indian food was available. Noon stepped in and apart from making Indian sweets acceptable, popularised Indian curries. If today he has earned the curry king title, it is because his is a giant company which dishes out 5,00,000 meals per day seven days a week. He also credits himself for making the Indian chicken tikka masala the “national dish of Britain”.

His closeness to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed Noon into politics and it was a messy experience. He was embroiled in the cash for peerages row some four years ago. Noon was also questioned by police as part of an investigation into allegations that Labour was “selling” peerages in return for cash.

According to the BBC, Sir Gulam gave £737,826 to the Labour Party between May 2001 and April 2010, as well as donating £17,000 to David Miliband’s unsuccessful leadership campaign.

His name was put up again last year and he was inducted into the House of Lords amid controversy that his peerage has come for a price and loyalty to a political party. Noon is a nominee of the Labour party.

Ask Noon and he says he has done no wrong given that a businessman would give their right arm to hobnob with powerful and influential politicians. Noon is said to be a close friend of Prince Charles and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and of course, Blair.

Money, admits the multi-millionaire, has been the driving force of his success. While he would add hard work and integrity which he claims have got him where he is today, he says there is no substitute to money: “Take away money and what is left?” he asks.

His disaster with two marriages is a pain he will live with for the rest of his life: “However thin the slice of your bread is, it has two sides so I have to share the blame. I could have avoided the break-up.” His two daughters Zeenat and Zarmin have helped his businesses. He dotes on them as he does on Mohini, a Sikh girl he married. Instead of dedicating a monument of love to her he went ahead and named a police station after her in his home state in Rajasthan where he’s also built hospitals and schools.

If cricket is Noon’s first love, India is his second. His emotional connect with the country of his origin has remained intact. That is the reason that he pumps in money for welfare projects to repay in some measure the debt he owes to the land of Bombay Halwa.